The first professional base ball clubs came in two varieties: stock clubs, which paid their players fixed wages, and player cooperatives, in which players shared the proceeds after expenses. We argue that stock clubs were formed with players of known ability, while co-ops were formed with players of unknown ability. Although residual claimancy served to screen out players of inferior ability in co-ops, the process was imperfect due to the team production problem. Based on this argument, we suggest that co-ops functioned as an early minor league system where untried players could seek to prove themselves and eventually move up to wage teams. Empirical analysis of data on player performance and experience in early professional base ball provides support for the theory.